DMA Scores $500,000 Grant, Doesn't Disappear to Cabo

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The Dallas Museum of Art announced yesterday that it received a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to support the advancement of the museum's Conservation Department, which until recently was just one lonely man in a tiny room.

The Eugene McDermott Director of the DMA, Maxwell Anderson, noticed the absence of a strong conservation program upon his arrival. He saw it as an opportunity for growth: By procuring a sought-after Cheif Conservator and building a new facility to foster the expansion, Anderson believes the DMA could manage its conservation in-house and establish itself as a research nexus. It's a path that worked for Anderson in the past. He took similar steps at the Whitney more than a decade ago, which led to the founding of the museum's now-esteemed Conservation Department, which partners with the Center for Technical Study of Modern Art at Harvard University.

This union allows the museum to expand its roles in both the technical acts of restoration and in the research that accompanies ensuring a well-rounded collection. It has also helped mark the Whitney as an important institution for information dissemination through teaching, lecturing and scholarly publishing. Harvard's Center for Technical Study says it this way:

Drawing on the strength of each institution, the partnership fosters an interdisciplinary approach to the technical study of modern works through undergraduate teaching, graduate-level training for curatorial and conservation fellows, and innovative research.

To help helm the DMA's efforts Anderson snatched Mark Leonard out of retirement in mid-March. Prior to dipping down to Palm Springs to explore his own artistic interests, Leonard worked in the Getty's paintings department since 1983. Leonard assumes the newly-created role of Chief Conservator and lends his expertise to the departmental expansion beginning July 1. In an unrelated interview last week, I asked Mr. Anderson why he deemed conservation an immediate priority. "My intention was to build an awareness of the importance of our collection," replied Anderson, "and to provide us with expertise that could not only repair objects that are damaged -- that's actually the smallest part of what a conservator does -- but to make sure that there's a very 360-degree vision of what our collection consists of and what, in the long terms, its needs may be."

This $500,000 grant could give the project a nice push and establish fundraising momentum within the community. The DMA also has an application in at the National Endowment for the Humanities for another chunk of cash, that one won't be announced until December. Currently there is no projected price point associated with expansion project, so it will be interesting to watch its development and refinement as funding increases and Leonard comes on board. Anderson has faith in both the man he's corralled to oversee the creation and the conservation effort itself. "Leonard," he said, "is really just that good."

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